GeoCom 2014

GeoCom 2014

Last week I attended Geocom – The changing face of Geo (otherwise known as the AGI annual conference). I was involved in helping with a small group of people (the events action working group) to help with organising the conference this year, and so my review might be biased!

I arrived the day before to help with the setup of the icebreaker welcome dinner – where we had 100 people listening to the amazing career of @mara_yamauchi. Mara gave some great tips to the budding runners in the audience and likened the marathon to projects you may have in the workplace. I should also mention that we started off with a brief intro from Rollo, the conference chair, and Abi, who told us about the Geo Big 5 events series and the plans for next year. Following a brilliant dinner we started the networking bingo. Here’s the card we gave to people!…

The winners of the networking bingo each received a map courtesy of SplashMaps. Thanks to David for these prizes!

Day 1 of conference* started with some interesting keynote speeches from Tim Broyd of UCL (formerly of Halcrow, Atkins etc. and Vice President of ICE) who talked about the built environment and gave some interesting insight int megacities, the London infrastructure plan and also obesity! And after that we heard Richard Waite from ESRI UK talking about the GIS industry and early pioneers to North America. Following a short break in the main exhibition hall (where the sponsor stands were located), where I visited Roger on the MapAction stand, we broke out into separate sessions. I was hosting Stream 5 which saw two interesting talks on GIS and the Olympic legacy and the use of Geographic Information in the construction industry.

The first presentation on the Olympic legacy was really interesting and Dan from Civica and Danny from LLDC talked about the huge quantities of data which was handed over from the ODA including 3500 borehole locations. The team set about creating different GIS viewers for different purposes including planning and land use. There was also talk of future plans for the park which included the term ‘Olmpicopolis’!.

Nick Humes then talked about GI for the construction industry and how BIM is helping regulatory requirements. Nick also mentioned that 80% of planning applications are filled by non-professonals – a startling figure!

After lunch, I attended some sessions on drones, followed by a presentation by Ian Coady on the ONS workplace zones. These cover England and Wales with 53,578 zones encapsulating where people work. I think this data is incredibly useful and it was surprising to learn that ONS initially struggled to get the commercial sector to provide case studies for the use of the data. This has changed since the release of the data last year.

After some more networking and meeting with people I’ve seen only at AGI Conferences and plenty who I see more regularly (!), we went into the final plenary for the day. This was started by Neil Ackroyd, acting DG of Ordnance Survey who talked about a number of things including the Government site, resilience direct, where OS mapping is used. He also mentioned that the Ordnance Survey data in Minecraft was more successful (in terms of number of downloads), then any of the other OS Open Data products put together! Next it was time for a very brief break, which was followed by the AGM. After the AGM we started the party to celebrate 25 years of the AGI. Past Chair’s of the AGI talked about the main issues of interest in the geographic information industry when they were at the helm of the AGI. Roy Wood, pictured below, gave us his insights – Roy is currently the Chairman of MapAction.

The morning session of Day 2 began with Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Advisor talked about the evolution of mapping (from John Snow and cholera to the mapping of the Ebola crisis today), and an interesting case study of using fitness bracelets (think Strava) to look at how widely the recent Napa earthquake in Northern California was felt. He also talked about the work the FCO are doing to map threats within different countries, and mentioned that a recent Oxera report that estimates the revenues from global Geo services at $150 billion to $270 billion per year. Next up was a fascinating talk by Professor Sanjeev Gupta, who is a basically a Mars explorer! He gave an enthusiastic presentation on how NASA are using the Curiosity rover to look at rocks on Mars, and how they are planning day-to-day which areas of land are best to ‘survey’. Future missions will look to take borehole samples from Mars’s surface but to collect those samples will involve a 3-stage mission. Prof Gupta talked about the societal benefits from the various space missions, and it was a really great talk with some amazing images from Mars.

After the key notes we had Harvey Lewis from Deloitte in Stream 1, the session I hosted, who talked about opportunities for Big Data and ways to unlock value. This was an interesting talk with Big Data being such a hot topic at the moment, and Harvey also covered some of the concerns around privacy.

Next was Denise McKenzie from OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) who talked about open standards across communities. Denise talked about the history or the OGC, this year celebrating it’s 20th birthday, and how the organisation grew out of the defence industry. She described how standards organisations are working in closer collaboration to ensure interoperability between standards. And how the UN-GGIM and it the vision documents are helping to set the role of standards for Geographic Information now and into the future.

Following a lunch break it was into the afternoon sessions, where somewhat regrettably I ended up missing the talk by Doug Specht on how social movements are using participatory GIS – he won best paper at conference. Instead I helped prepare for the evening awards which I actually couldn’t attend(!). After another break, it was onto the final plenary session which saw Graphic (the team behind Guardian Data) talking about digital storytelling. This was a really interesting session and showed some amazing uses of visualisation (maps and other devices) to help provide easy to understand information from data including a mention of the work of Nathan Yao (@flowingdata). And then Anne Kemp, AGI Chair, and Rollo Home, conference chair, rounded off the conference before the AGI awards began. Does anyone want to write a report on the AGI awards?!

*Full conference schedule available here

86 (mostly) rain-filled miles later…

Yesterday (Sunday) morning at 6am I woke to my alarm and apprehensively prepared for the Ride 100 London-Surrey event. A few hours later I saw Ant, a fellow MapAction volunteer, at the meeting area before the start. 24,000 riders meant that there were a number of waves of 500 (48 I guess!?). Unfortunately I was on my own in a wave, whilst Ant and Luke were in a wave together. We agreed we would meet at the end, given the rubbish weather! Ant and I had bin bags on which seemed to keep the rain off for a while at least! We also learned at the start that the route had been shortened by 14 miles because of the weather conditions – this meant 2 things:
1. Box Hill and Leith Hill were removed from the route meaning no big hill climbs! :-)
2. I couldn’t try to compete with a friend’s time – he had clocked 5:56 last year :-(

At 0830 hrs I set off down the A13 in the driving rain. Cycling through the streets on London was great fun as there were no cars around! (all the streets on the route were closed off for the event). What struck me was the number of punctures I saw – I guess as a result of the wet weather and debris etc. By the time we got to Richmond park the rain was at it’s heaviest, with a few centimetres of water on the road. Worst was to come as a cycle-jam in the park meant we were stood on our bikes in the torrential rain for 30mins! (we learnt later that someone had fallen off their bike face first which had caused a long backlog of cyclists – I hope they were ok!). In the park I got chatting to a Geordie called Simon who was an amiable chap (and it turned out cycled at a similar pace to me)! We kept pace with each other for the last 60 miles! There were a few times when I was completely knackered so it was great to have someone to try to keep up with!

The highlight (apart from finishing!) was seeing Matt and Chloe from MapAction on Wimbledon Hill cheering us on in the first moment of proper sunshine!

I finished in 5 hrs 41 mins which was ok I suppose given that we were cycling into 20-30mph headwinds at times (the remnants of Hurricane Bertha) and not to mention the massive amounts of rain! And we had a 30 minute plus wait in the rain in Richmond Park. (next time I’ll take a proper stopwatch / timer / GPS with me!). Excuses, excuses!…

After we finished, another downpour came and I went to meet my wife and daughter, before we caught up with Matt and Chloe and we met Ant and Luke too. And then the sun came out (as you can see!).

the 3 knackered cyclists at the end!

Later on we were lucky enough to be invited to the H2 Bike Run Soho for a shower and massage (insert joke about a massage in Soho here!). After eating some delicious chicken jambalaya we each had a back or leg massage from the masseurs – which was fantastic! Thank you all!

All in all it was a great day and I’d love to do it again. I just need to clear that with wife and daughter!…(oh and hope I get through the ballot next time!).

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Sunday = the day we ride 100 miles!…

This Sunday myself, Luke and Ant are cycling the Prudential London-Surrey 100 for MapAction. MapAction is the disaster mapping charity which we three volunteer for*. MapAction respond to disasters worldwide and provide a common operational picture which helps bring resources to those who need them most. I’ve not had as much time recently to be able to help MapAction so was really happy to be one of those chosen to represent MapAction on the Ride 100.

So, I’ve been trying to put in some training but kind of feel a little bit under-prepared! (I’ve managed a 30 mile, 70 mile and 40 mile ride in the last few weeks but would have liked to do more). What has helped me is the loan of my work-mate’s bike – thank you Paddy! This is a sportive/road bike which is 1 million times faster than my hybrid! It has clip in pedals and is nice and light too.

In terms of nutrition I’m planning to take some Belvita breakfast biscuits (they seem to be working on my practice rides!) and jelly babies. And then there are all sorts of gels and things (but I’ve heard of the side-effects so I’ll probably steer clear of those!).

I’ve been speaking to some of the MAMILs in the office and they’ve given me some advice:
1. ride at your own pace
2. get enough food on board
3. keep up with a pack of people
4. don’t start off too fast
5. enjoy it!

All good bits of advice – apart from the slightly conflicting points 1 and 3. I hope that we all enjoy it and I’m sure we will. 24,000 people cycling on the car-free streets of London and Surrey sounds amazing! (I guess cycling in Scotland or Lancashire would be better but it’ll have to do!).

So, 4 and a bit days to go!…..I’m getting a bit nervous!

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Review of AGI Tech SIG and OGC event

Note – this post also appears on the AGI blog.

On Monday I helped organise an AGI Technical SIG event from the OGC on the UK Interoperability Assessment Plugfest (or UKIAP for short – not to be confused with the political party UKIP of course!). Bart De Lathouwer from OGC, Peter Cotroneo from OS, and Paul Lacey from DSTL all presented and gave a great overview of the OGC, and thedifferent programmes they operate, as well as discussing theUKIAP and what it means for the wider geospatial community. The programmes cover standards, compliance, outreach and the interoperability programme. UKIAP covers mostly all the separate programmes with its work.

The UKIAP is all about trying to ensure software suppliers are consuming OGC standards as expected, and is really important for business and government for the sharing of geospatial information.
Embedded image permalinkImagine a company which has 5 departments all using slightly different GIS and CAD software but they want to share information – this is where OGC standards can help! Phase 1 of UKIAP was a closed door affair (what happens in Las Vegas (or Blackpool was used in this case!) stays in Las Vegas (or Blackpool!), with each of the 11 suppliers testing their software against 5 OGC standards (GML, WMS, WMTS, WMS-C, and WFS). A series of tests were performed to basically determine if the standard worked as expected in different geospatial software. The next stage is Phase 2 of the UKIAP on the 3rd March. The results from Phase 2 will be published and so everyone can see how the different software performed against the standards. What happens in “Blackpool” will be revealed!

There were plenty of questions from the audience about the OGC too, and Bart talked about how standards can prevent vendor lock in, and bring consensus to the geospatial community. Everyone agreed it was an interesting event and we hope we can put on more of these events. We followed the event by the ever popular geodrinks at a local hostelry.

Have you read the AGI blog?

ich bin ein blog!
photo: Some rights reserved by karola riegler photography

The Association for Geographic Information have started to write a number of good blogs around events etc.

Have a look at where Chris Rhodes has been writing once a week (or more!) since he started back in the summer.

There’s also the interesting AGI Scotland blog to look at featuring news around the EEO-AGI(S) seminar series.

Happing reading!

Some notes on AGI GeoCommunity 13

Here’s some longer notes on AGI GeoCommunity 2013, the UK’s premier geospatial event at EMCC in Nottingham. So I arrived in Nottingham on Monday, into Ancaster Hall. I managed to miss the icebreaker (it’s a long story) and after a good sleep, and great breakfast I was ready for the first day of talks. In the key notes Vanessa Lawrence, DG of Ordnance Survey, gave an interesting talk of which I picked up on the G8 open data commitments, the BCS announcing a carto hack camp , and the space catapult along with the national data strategy. Throughout the conference I made sure that the sponsors in the exhibition hall were catered for (here’s a list of the sponsors – a big thank you to all of them for making #GeoCom possible).

Next up I went to watch PBS give a demo on the use of open data in business. Is open data free data? Yes, but not exactly if you factor in the costs of transforming the data and making it fit for purpose. This pre-empted my talk a little where free does not always mean free to all. Next I went to watch my old boss Kendall give an engaging talk on HS2. This gave a good overview of the spatial enterprise set up for HS2. Kendall also mentioned the need for constant communication to management and contractors to make sure that all parties are thinking of the bigger picture. Next up I went to the NoSQL talk from Jack Harrison of Ordnance Survey. This was a great talk. One day I’ll have the guts to do a picture based presentation – you know the ones (no text and lots of lovely pictures). Anyway the talk gave a good overview of reading and visualising twitter feeds using NoSQL, Ruby, JSON, D3.js and Mongo DB. I hope I have time to check these out in a bit more detail! All Jack’s work can be found at After a full day of talks it was time for a quick run and then to the bar where we witnessed some casino games, much beer, and (if you were lucky/unlucky) some karaoke in the other rooms. My MapAction collague (who shall remain nameless!) has suggested that next year the conference should have 1 hour of entirely map-related karaoke. I can think of Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs as a relevant song for sure!

The next day (Wednesday) saw a plenary from Ian of Sainsbury’s who explained a bit about how they use location intelligence in their site planning and analysis. Then there was a talk on BIM and this gave a good overview of the current state of play. We were urged to read Construction 2025. We also saw an awe-inspiring video of a sky scraper in China being built in 15 days! Then I presented on Building Catastrophe Models using Open Data and Open Source (see my last post for the presentation). Next up Mark Jackson of CERC showed us an open-source web GIS for accessing climate data. The portal is open-source and available from After lunch I saw James Proctor from EA (NaFRA) talk about processing data and speeding up data manipulation. Finally for the day Lynnae Sutton presented on Open Source GIS techniques for web mapping mentioning Kartograph.js, Open Layers, Dojo, D3, I2maps, Leaflet.js, Cartodb, Mapbox and Mapnik amongst others! Then we had the closing session, with Peter Batty talking on Openess in Geospatial which nicely pre-empted FOSS4G (post coming soon).

Short notes on AGI GeoCommunity and FOSS4G 2013

Long time no post! Well, I’ve just returned from AGI GeoCommunity 2013 and FOSS4G at EMCC, Nottingham University. They were great great great events and I’d like to thank the AGI team, AGI GeoCom AWG, and FOSS4G LOC for all their hours spent on making them a perfect set of conferences. AGI had a lot for the UK geospatial person; ranging from BIM, 3D, cartography to all the opens (source, standards and data). FOSS4G was solely open source for geospatial (as the name suggests), but the tag line ‘geo for all’ was really apt. It really amazes me how many uses there are for geospatial software and how far open source geospatial has come. There were some thought provoking keynotes and some very exciting news on software releases etc. I want to expand on my thoughts from the conference – I’ll try to do this in the coming days! I presented ‘Building Catastrophe Models using Open Data and Open Source’ which you can view here……